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Blasts Reported at Storm-Damaged Chemical Plant

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Volunteer and rescue officials help residents to safety after they had to be rescued by boats from their homes after the area flooded in Houston, Aug. 29, 2017. As one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history pummeled southeast Texas for a fourth day, forecasts on Tuesday called for still more rain, making clear that catastrophic flooding that had turned neighborhoods into lakes was just the start of a disaster that would take years to overcome. - BARBARA DAVIDSON/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Barbara Davidson/The New York Times
  • Volunteer and rescue officials help residents to safety after they had to be rescued by boats from their homes after the area flooded in Houston, Aug. 29, 2017. As one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history pummeled southeast Texas for a fourth day, forecasts on Tuesday called for still more rain, making clear that catastrophic flooding that had turned neighborhoods into lakes was just the start of a disaster that would take years to overcome.

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

Fresh repercussions from Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical depression, emerged overnight as explosions were reported at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 30 miles northeast of downtown Houston, that drove multiple sheriff’s deputies to the hospital.

The blasts happened around 2 a.m., according to a statement from Arkema, the French chemicals company that owns the plant.

“We want local residents to be aware that the product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” the company added.

The company had already ordered all workers to leave the damaged plant, and Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile radius. Sheriff’s deputies went to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter. Some were later released.

The sheriff’s office tweeted that company officials believed the smoke inhaled by the 10 deputies was “a nontoxic irritant.”

The Arkema plant manufactures organic peroxides, which are used to make plastic and other materials. When the chemicals warm, they start to decompose, which creates more heat and can quickly lead to a rapid, explosive reaction. Some organic peroxides also produce flammable vapors as they decompose.

But Arkema said the plant had been without power since Sunday, and the torrential rains and flooding had damaged backup generators.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez insisted in a news conference Thursday that the chemical reaction did not result in explosions, characterizing the result as a “pop.”

“It is not anything toxic; it is not anything that we feel is a danger to the community at all,” he said.

As what was once a Category 4 hurricane weakened into a tropical depression Wednesday night, a region that had been incapacitated by the storm continued to gather itself Thursday and take stock of damage that officials say will take years to repair.

With at least 38 people already reported dead, officials throughout southeast Texas said they were prepared for that number to inch higher as floodwaters began to recede.

The city of Beaumont, Texas, about 100 miles east of Houston, reported that it had lost its water supply. And evacuation orders were issued for several neighborhoods near the Barker Reservoir in Houston, where the water has risen and new flooding is expected.